As companies continuously strive to lower costs, reduce assets and improve quality, their supply chains are transformed, often faster than their ability to recognize the changes that have taken place.
Many company's legacy software applications haven't kept up with changes in order tracking, receiving, cross docking and other processes. The number of places where they collect and communicate data on in-process inventory has also multiplied, says Lamar Van Wagenen, COO of Wavelink Corp. (Kirkland, Wash., www.wavelink.com). Keeping track of all of this incoming data is one challenge for risk managers, but so is managing the additional hardware.
Earlier concerns that wireless devices connected to a central corporate computer could provide a point of entry for hackers have been addressed, says Van Wagenen. A more recent threat that devices containing sensitive data could be removed from their safe environment can be mitigated through global positioning or simpler techniques. A virtual fence can be created in a device's operating world. If it crosses a specified boundary, it can be locked or disabled.
Connectivity is key to many supplychain system upgrades today. Decisions on how systems are constructed and how applications and data are distributed carry risks. Tony Kourlas, director service provider strategy, Solace Systems (Ottawa, Ontario www.solacesystems.com), says managers can either put everything in a massive central database and have everyone connect back to it or they can distribute the necessary information closer to the people who need it.
Hardware systems can review messages flowing over the network and route information to who needs it. If a particular piece of data needs to go to 30 different locations along the supply chain, it can be routed once, says Kourlas. Access speeds are faster because the system can provide what is needed where it's needed.
Operating as a lead logistics provider managing suppliers and sub contractors, Ian Craig, director of Core Transport Technologies (Orlando, Fla. www.core-tt.com) must ensure that people up and down the supply chain know what's on a plane and whether the plane is late. Others need to see supplier performance metrics. He says they used to publish such information through network routers, map everyone's location, and apply rules within the central application on what each user could see.
Now, using Solace Systems, Craig allows users define the events they want to know about (like inbound air shipments) and conditions (such as when a shipment is an hour late) and data are pushed to them. Bulk information is published to routers which send it to local applications that take the information when and as needed, limit or filter it, and push it to users, reformatting it for a desktop computer or a PDA.
Such a structure avoids the need for users to be polling the network constantly to see what's going on. People still only see what is available to them based on their role, says Craig. Users can be added or deleted centrally. A subcontractor who was used for four weeks to handle surge inventories is only live on the system for the period when it needs to have access to data on shipments it is handling.